By Jack Gaughan at the DW Stadium
The two greatest players to have graced the Premier League won the PFA Players' Player Award in consecutive seasons. Thierry Henry and Cristiano Ronaldo better make room, because it looks like Robin van Persie is set to join the elite.
The Dutchman’s signing was reflected on as a ‘very early Christmas present’ to Manchester United by Sir Alex Ferguson last week, but it has now gone further than that. Yes, the impact he is having at Old Trafford is nothing short of sensational, but the player himself – the brand – is on another level to anyone else in the country.
The way in which Van Persie glides through games, picks pockets of space, intelligently finds others and, on more than one occasion this season, carries United, is a joy to watch. In 2012, the striker scored 36 goals in 49 starts for United, Arsenal and the Netherlands.
The two goals against Wigan – not a bad way to start a new year, by the way – showcased what he is about. The dropping of a shoulder for his first before bending a lovely effort well out of reach from a wrong foot oozed class while possessing striker’s instinct with a well-timed run for the second. That was in the 88th minute. The desire is astonishing.
If he keeps this up, there will again be only one winner of the coveted PFA trophy. It might actually be that he already has it sewn up.
More poignantly, however, he is cementing himself as an all-time Premier League great.
The day Van Persie was unveiled by Sir Alex was huge for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it served as a massive capture for the club, especially as they were able to gazump rivals Manchester City for the signature of the hottest available property about. They meant business and were not leaving the gut-wrenching pain of losing the title on goal difference to chance again.
It also pointed towards a player, then 28, who picked the team not only for the monetary benefits, but for footballing reasons. As painful as this sounds, in the mercenary world of the game, the fact that football played any part in the decision at all is something to behold.
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Indeed, he is paid a handsome wedge at United and correct, wanted more money at Arsenal. However, it is unlikely that he chose United over City for the package offered – doubtful that he would be paid less at the Etihad Stadium. As sickening as the “I listened to the little boy inside of me and it screamed Manchester United” line Van Persie trotted out at the press conference was, it struck a chord. At the peak of his powers, he wanted to claw back that title for the wounded animal.
What also went largely unnoticed at the time of the conference was the way in which the player was looking at his new manager. When Ferguson spoke it was almost as if Van Persie morphed back into that child, engrossed when hearing the lavish praise coming his way. That was certainly the case when the United boss talked up the Dutchman's ability to help the younger players' development. The dynamism between he and Chicharito at Wigan is proof enough that his class and craft are starting to rub off on the others.
But before his elder brother status truly brings through tomorrow’s talent, Van Persie has a job to do. He is not doing it badly at the moment. Eight goals in as many matches – five of them winning strikes – indicate the sheer importance of the best summer signing in Europe’s top three leagues. Simplistically speaking, having to do without would have meant United dropped seven points during that time.
When Van Persie starts, United win 86% of the time. When he does not, they lose 43%. Where would they be without him? This guy is just something else. For us more so than them, because English football has not seen anything like this since Ronaldo left Carrington for the final time.